After six months of discussions, the one item that occupied the biggest share of the St. Tammany Parish Charter Review Committee’s time is not among its recommended revisions to the parish’s 15-year-old governing document.
That issue was term limits for council members.
After intense debates at several of its meetings, the committee rejected by a 6-5 vote a proposal to recommend implementing a limit of three consecutive terms, with no lifetime limit, for council members.
The term-limits issue was also the one most frequently raised by audience members at the committee’s meetings, according to the group’s 24-page final report, presented to the council Thursday night.
The council accepted the report without comment, thanking the 11-member committee for its work.
In the report, the committee urged the council to put three varying term-limits measures before parish voters and let them decide. The first measure would keep the current situation, meaning no term limits. The second would impose a limit of three consecutive terms on the 14 council members. The third proposal would also implement a three-term limit but would reduce the number of council districts by two while adding two at-large members to be elected parishwide.
Before the voters can decide, the Parish Council must vote to put the matter on the ballot.
Another issue that generated considerable debate during the review committee’s meetings concerned legal representation of the council and the parish president. The District Attorney’s Office now provides the representation for both, at least in name. However, the president’s executive counsel and other lawyers in her office are selected by the president, and the money for the attorneys’ pay comes solely from parish funds.
Three of the Parish Council’s four attorneys receive supplemental pay from the District Attorney’s Office.
Newly elected District Attorney Warren Montgomery proposed dividing the duties, saying the parish president should be allowed to select, supervise and pay for her own attorney but that the District Attorney’s Office should continue providing representation for the Parish Council.
The council’s 14 part-time members are ill-suited to supervise legal work due to competing political ideologies and philosophies, Montgomery said. Allowing the DA to continue to supervise the council’s attorneys would ensure the council would receive impartial legal advice, he said.
A second sticking point was who would have the power to choose outside attorneys for the council on specific issues: Montgomery suggested that power reside with the district attorney, but Councilmen Richard Tanner and Steve Stefancik refused to go along with that idea.
Apart from those two issues, the committee recommended that the charter be modified in a number of ways: giving the president the right to enter cooperative endeavor agreements with other political subdivisions, providing for a decennial review of the charter, allowing council salaries to be set by ordinance, allowing anyone who wishes to speak at council meetings to do so, giving the council the ability to subpoena people and documents from the parish, and setting the salary of the parish president $1,000 higher than the highest of those earned by the parish’s sheriff, assessor and clerk of court.
The council will hold special meetings April 23 and May 14 to discuss the proposed charter changes. Both meetings will begin at 6 p.m.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.